Tuesday, March 11, 2008

3 feet, not 33.

One of my pet cycling with cars peeves is how people pass a cyclist on the road.

Let's start with the assumption that the bicyclist is on the side near the edge of the road. Let's further assume that a white line-marked shoulder exists and no part of the cyclist or his bike extends outside the white stripe.

A car approaches in a lane that is typically 18 feet wide - approximately 8 wider than the car. If the car manages to drive "straight down the middle" leaving an equal distance between the yellow stripe and the white strip, the car will "miss" the cyclist by 4 feet. That's plenty for me, but some riders would prefer a little more.

The car usually prefers a lot more. A typical reaction is to edge over toward the yellow line. Putting the left tires on the yellow will provide up to 8 feet of clearance between the auto and the cyclist. This is the safest approach for all. It's in the California Driving Handbook. But here's the rub. Most cars prefer to put the right tires to the left of the yellow line. That leaves 18 feet or more of clearance - great you say. You probably do it yourself. But how much space are you leaving for the cyclist coming from the "other direction". ZERO or less than ZERO. And they compound the ensuing head-on collision by accelerating as if they were passing a semi-truck on I5.

It gets worse if the road has a double yellow stripe - for no passing. Now you are leaving no room for the oncoming car. If a car is right around the bend, someone (probably the cyclist) is going to get killed.

I see this at least once an hour on Bay Area roads. I have been the "bike coming from the other direction" twice where the car is not only in my lane, his tires are off the road on my side of the road. I almost rode off a cliff the last time it happened on Page Mill Road. I NEVER go down Page Mill Road on a weekend.

Someone in the California Assembly tried to pass a law requiring 3 feet of clearance when passing a bike. Who (TF) is going to measure that? Negative numbers are easy to measure - in blood and mayhem. Almost as useless as the "no talking on the cellphone while driving" law. The chance of getting a ticket for talking on the cellphone while driving in the bike lane are lower than your chances of winning the lottery. Only laws that put offenders in jail for YEARS for injuring or killing another human being with their car are the answer.

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